WORKS: Violin Concerto; Music for a Scene from Shelley; Souvenirs Suite; Serenade for Strings
PERFORMER: James Buswell (violin); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559044
Marin Alsop’s Samuel Barber series with the RSNO is proving one of the real successes of Naxos’s ‘American Classics’ strand. The headline work in this third instalment is the 1939 Violin Concerto, originally intended for a young violinist who complained when he saw the first two movements about their emphasis on lyricism, then baulked at the out-and-out virtuosity of the perpetual-motion finale. The American violinist James Buswell plays the work with impressive technical security and a real feeling for spinning a phrase – even if he doesn’t caress Barber’s lovely lines with quite the intensity of his full-price rivals Gil Shaham (DG) or Joshua Bell (Decca). Bell’s finely drawn account also has in its favour a recording of remarkable clarity and naturalness. Buswell is placed well forward in the balance, accentuating a slightly wiry quality in his tone, and relegating the thematically important woodwind
to the distant background.
However, the Naxos has in its favour not only price, but also the coupling of the Concerto with some of Barber’s most attractive orchestral music, in well-integrated sound. The excellent RSNO gives a poetic and ardent account of the early tone poem inspired by Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. The 1952 Souvenirs ballet suite, an affectionate look back at the heyday of hotel palm courts and tea dances, is delivered with a delightful lightness of touch. And Alsop, herself a former violinist, coaxes some beautiful sounds from the strings in Barber’s assured Op. 1, the Serenade he wrote (originally for string quartet) at the age of 18. Anthony Burton